Friday, January 28, 2011

A Famous Grouse: January 22

Last weekend's unedited Weekend Argus column. In the published version they changed "bullshit" to "bulldust". Does anyone still say "bulldust", when what they really mean is "bullshit"? Did they ever? Beyond the age of ten, that is? Answers on a postcard. . .  Oh, and due to some printing fuck-up or other, the last line of the column disappeared. Pity. --AD

ONCE again to Mahogany Ridge, where there has been much chatter about the mysterious illness that appears to have laid low honeymoon murder suspect Shrien Dewani, thus preventing him from making an appearance at his extradition hearing in London this week.

According to British news reports, the 31-year-old businessman has been diagnosed as having acute stress and depressive adjustment disorders -- a condition known locally as the Shaiks.

Opinion amongst the Ridge regulars is sharply divided as to how soon the chronically ailing Dewani will next be spotted on the links of Albion’s finer country clubs, his perky Bollywood turban set at a rakish angle as he calls for his favourite mashie.

Some say three months at least, while others, more cynical, suggest no more than six weeks. Older regulars, perhaps recalling social conditions in the UK from their last visit, when they went over on the mailship, are adamant that it will never happen. “None of the better clubs will allow him on their courses,” said one. “Chap’s teeth are far too loud. And he’s got too many. Obviously he stole them.”

There is however consensus that Dewani has done his homework, and is fast acquainting himself with the intricate technicalities of our justice system, particularly as deftly exploited by convicted fraudsters, and is not relying solely on the unhinged and thoughtless remarks from the national police commissioner,  Field Marshal Bheki Cele, to stuff up the case for the  prosecution.

In this regard, the Field Marshal’s public outburst to the effect that Dewani is a monkey who “came all the way from London to have his wife killed here” will no doubt be leapt upon by the defence, who, it is claimed, were considering whether to cite the case of British journalist Simon Wright, who was arrested during last year’s World Cup, and who has announced that he is suing the Minister of Police for R50-million.

At the time, Wright’s lawyer told the press: “Cele alleged that he [Wright] was involved in all kinds of illegal dealings and arranging for the World Cup authorities to be placed in a bad light as far as security was concerned, that there was conspiracy and all kinds of absurd, blatant lies.”

The fact, of course, that the Field Marshal is a notorious windbag with a penchant for military insignia should have little bearing on a murder accused’s guilt or innocence.

But we do not live in an ideal world and instead have to bear the vituperative nonsense of Max Clifford, the bullshit artist hired by Dewani to fling calumny at all who would accuse his client of any wrongdoing. Alas, I fear this spin doctor’s nastiness may stick, and our particular brand of justice -- shoot first, questions later, maybe, if they’re still alive -- could be found wanting.

But onto the Johannesburg Art Gallery, where thieves have made off with a bronze sculpture of a French general, Lazare Hoche, by the 19th century artist Jules Dalou.

Originally, it was supposed that this a “metal theft” -- that the 71cm statue, donated to the gallery in 1910, would be melted down for scrap -- but, according to officials, it is now thought that the work was stolen for its artistic merit.

I somehow doubt this. It’s far too Eurocentric for the New South African aesthetic for any kind of merit. What’s more, it’s a statue -- not a BMW or Audi A6. And besides, unlike Ronnie Kasrils, let’s say, who led Angola to famous victories against everyone, Hoche was not even a good general, and typical of the French military habit, lost most of his important battles before dying of consumption in 1797, aged 29.

Nevertheless, the Dalou piece was a valuable one. Like all South African museums, the Johannesburg Art Gallery receives next to no funding from government whatsoever, and is thus incapable of looking after its treasures. Rather than help the museum up its security to safeguard works by Picasso, Warhol and Pissarro, among others, our Department of Arts and Culture instead flings millions in “housekeeping money” at the National Youth Development Agency’s crappy anti-imperialism festival.

Such philistinism reminds me of a story, a few years ago, in which an Iziko executive mentioned to some DAC knob that a little extra government funding would help the gallery’s acquisitions programme, only to be told that this was not necessary because it was quite clear that the gallery’s walls were full of pictures and they didn’t need any more. Where would they possibly hang them?

I have been told that this may have been a witty aside. But I am not sure. It was during Thabo Mbeki’s term of office -- and older readers may recall that, during his tyrannical presidency, government officials were not allowed to tell jokes.

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